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MARKETERS GAME FOR GAY EVENTS FROM AT &T TO HIRAM WALKER, SPONSORS GRASP THE IMPORTANCE OF INVOLVEMENT

By Published on .

Advertisers are expanding their reach into the gay and lesbian markets via event sponsorship.

Next month, advertisers including AT&T Corp., Continental Airlines, Hiram Walker & Sons, Miller Brewing Co. and Nora Beverages' Naya spring water will connect with the biggest gay and lesbian marketing event of the year.

The Gay Games IV and Cultural Festival runs June 18 to 25 in New York. And that event is followed by Stonewall 25 on June 26, a march to commemorate a riot that took place during a raid of the Stonewall Inn 25 years ago.

A separate but related event on the same day, "March with a Buddy," will allow friends and family of those too sick to march in Stonewall 25 to carry posters of those who can't be there.

The office of the mayor expects 500,000 visitors including athletes and spectators to spend about $111 million the week of the events.

Advertisers will also sponsor other New York events scheduled to capitalize on the attendance at Gay Games IV.

"Liberty and Justice For All," "What A Riot" and "The HX Ball" are just a few of the parties co-sponsored by Miller and Schieffelin & Somerset's Dewar's scotch in conjunction with The Advocate, Catalina Video and HX magazine.

"Marketers who support these events earn an immense amount of loyalty from gay and lesbian consumers," says Harold Levine, director of marketing for the Gay Games IV.

That fact hasn't been wasted on Miller, which has been targeting the segment since 1989 and is signed on as the first national sponsor of the International Gay Rodeo Association's 15 events scheduled in various cities.

"We market to gays and lesbians for business reasons because we want to sell our product to consumers. It doesn't get more complicated than that," says Sophia Nieves, a Miller spokeswoman.

Advertisers aren't shying away from events outside New York City either.

In fact, Fris Vodka Skandia was introduced to the Indianapolis market during the weekend of the Indianapolis 500 race on May 29 at a fund-raising dance party for Indiana Cares, a not-for-profit organization to help People With AIDS, according to James Giessler, the director of events for the Indiana Cares group.

The dance, themed "True Colours," isn't affiliated with Eastman Kodak Co., which uses the tag "True Colors" in advertising.

Indiana Cares managed to snag corporate sponsors such as Hiram Walker, Miller and The Advocate.

"A local Hiram Walker rep asked to become a sponsor," says Mr. Giessler. "That gave us an added push to go for corporate sponsorship."

Mr. Giessler says he courted the Advocate and was offered a page color ad on the inside front cover of the May 31 issue.

Priority Pharmacy, a San Diego-based national mail-order pharmacy catering to those who are HIV-positive or People With AIDS, spent $150,000 to underwrite "March with a Buddy" to give something back to the community that supports its business, says Vernon LoForti, Priority chief financial officer.

"We look for opportunities where we can give back," he says. "It provides us with a double benefit, giving back and getting our name out there."

Corporate sponsorships for the Gay Games IV range from $50,000 to $500,000 in exchange for a varying array of advertising and signage during the weeklong event.

Despite the affluence of this market, some advertisers see marketing to gays and lesbians as a double-edged sword.

"You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't," says an unnamed official at Continental Airlines, the official air carrier for the Games.

Continental is offering reduced air fares to anyone flying to New York for Gay Games IV. As a result, the airline has received calls and letters from individuals and conservative minority groups stating that they're going to boycott the carrier.

Continental says it offers convention fare rates to any group requesting it regardless of their religious, ethnic or sexual orientation.

Organizers of the Gay Games IV say that getting sponsors for this year's event was still extremely difficult until Miller signed on last fall.

"What has happened is that marketers have seen the success others have had," says Tony Incalcatera, VP-associate research director at J. Walter Thompson USA, New York.

JWT's client, Campari USA, has donated funds to local gay-oriented events for years.

Mr. Incalcatera says the Italian aperitif marketer has seen an increase in its usage at gay establishments, since it began marketing to gays and lesbians, but won't disclose how much, or what they're spending on Stonewall 25 sponsorship.

Campari USA's parent, Davide Campari-Milano SpA, chose to support Stonewall 25 because of its importance to the gay community.

"It has significance and repercussions on an international scale," says Aileen Robbins, PR director for Prisma Group, the holding company for Campari. "It's not just a local event," Ms. Robbins says.

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